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The New Jean Genie?

While the craze for designer jeans might date back to the late 70’s, this will be the decade makers and buyers lost perspective on how much a stylish, everyday pair should cost. The price for a pair from the popular J Brand is around $140; for Earnest Sewns, $200. Strange how every year brings a flood of new denim peddlers (True Religion, Rock & Republic, Nudie, Rogan, Acne), and yet the increased competition never drives down prices. Paying out more than $100 for a pair of jeans has become the standard, and fledgling companies are only too ready to continue the gouging.

Will Orjan Andersson change all that? The Swedish designer and former Lee jeans employee is the creator of the unisex denim brand Cheap Monday, currently lauded by the fashion press for its spectacular skintight fit, its variety of attractive unwashed shades, and its unusually low price—around $65 a pair. In an interview on his website, Andersson claims he isn’t opposed to pricey denim—he carries several expensive labels in his store—but says he has “noticed that there was not a single decent brand that made cheaper jeans.” He’s right.

The concept of Andersson’s Cheap Monday is almost too good to be true, so we stopped by one of the shops that stocked them in New York City, Opening Ceremony, to try on a few pairs. The “Eiffel Tower” style is fittingly named. Those who admired Imitation of Christ’s high-waisted styles from last season and whose torsos just happen to stretch two feet long will appreciate the elongated inseam and the waistband past the wearer’s bellybutton. The rest of us will look like Tweedle Dee set loose in the Levi’s factory for a night. The “Tight” style, with a stretchy, tapered fit similar to the coveted J Brands, will make a convert out of many more. Opening Ceremony, clearly expecting a deluge of new Cheap Mondays fans, have devoted most of their second floor to the label.

It remains to be seen whether Cheap Monday will infiltrate the rest of the country’s denim market. Andersson says he doesn’t want to grow too big, and the brand’s so-called anti-Christian logo—a skull with an inverted cross on the forehead—will likely stop some stores from stocking the label. An Associated Press article from last December claims that while the makers of Cheap Monday don’t “take the logo so seriously,” logo designer Bjorn Atldax does; he told the AP that he disdains organized religion and that his design is “an active statement against Christianity.” It’s quite a tall order, to stick it to the overpriced denim industry and question the Christian faith, all through a pair of jeans.

We purchased a pair. Let’s see if the rest of the U.S. follows suit.

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All Dolled Up

You can do a lot of sick, twisted things to a 20-inch bunny doll. A benefit and opening-night party for Kid Robot‘s new temporary shop at 281 Lafayette Street (the location kept a secret until the day of the event) featured no end to the variations in its installations of figurines, all customized by Kid Robot’s eclectic roster of friends, fans, and associates. (Participants were given either the unadorned, bunny-shaped “Dunny” figurine or a super-sized version of FatCaps, a line of miniaturized figures shaped like a can of spray paint.) The Dunny submitted by The Daily Show boasted the navy blue suit and official show mike of its newscasters (the show was recruited through Daily Show associate producer and resident toy freak Dave Blog); rapper Lupe Fiasco offered up an elegantly feminine, floral example; Keenan Duffty, the British clothing designer with a rock-star clientele and a line at Target, made his Dunny up to look like Bowie circa Aladdin Sane. Other artists included everyone from graf legend Seen to beverage companies Izze and Sobe to—would you believe—the 12-year-old spawn of notorious nightclub entrepreneur Peter Gatien. Sounding a bit like 12 going on 40, the precocious Xander Gatien described his New York gangster bunny, which had an LCD screen implanted in its back and was named for Circa, daddy’s new club in Toronto—as evocative of nightlife and “big business.” (Xander also informed us that he works on the technical aspect of his art pieces while his partner handles the painting: “That’s how we roll.” Okay.)

We found that the more fascinating submissions were not from major names like Marc Ecko, but less recognizable designers like Justin Pitkethly, a horror makeup and special effects artist for 28 Days Later and Sleepy Hollow, who contributed a zombie bunny with rotting, bleeding flesh and a killer grin. We also liked Berlin-based pixel artists eBoy, who suffocated their Dunny’s head and face in a knitted blue face mask inscribed with the word “love”; and a designer called Urban Medium, who knocked the top of his FatCap to slap a cage on it, with another can of spray paint implanted inside (oh graffiti, the caged art!). But leave it to Heatherette to boast the only hot pink Dunny with its own yellow Dunny thong. Richie Rich took care to inform us that the tiny scrap of yellow bejeweled fabric, a gift from a friend, supposedly once belonged to none other than Ms. Pamela Anderson herself. “I just though Dunny might appreciate it more,” Rich explained. Fair enough.

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Not Dressing Like a Sherpa

This is a city of greenmarket groupies and Whole Foods hounds, but move beyond the five-buck-a-pound tomatoes and fruit-acid exfoliants—and onto the topic of green fashion—and the enthusiasm drops considerably. It’s not a wholly undeserved reaction. While the concept of organic cotton and recycled fabrics are appealing in theory, it’s no secret that the phrase green fashion has become synonymous with a distinct dowdiness—think “ethnic” by way of crafts and crunchiness. The past few years have seen some notable exceptions—Bono’s Edun line, Rogan jeans—but it’ll take an army of these labels to balance out years of shapeless hemp caftans and Fred Flintstone clogs. Everyone wants to save the environment; no one wants to look like they lingered too long at the love-in.

Kaight, an upscale eco-shop which opened last month on the Lower East Side, hopes to change the negative perception. It’s an ambitious goal, but not an impossible one—we live in the era of the organic doggie biscuit, after all. Surely there are now enough fashionable eco lines to fill a one-room boutique?

Owner Kate McGregor has a few notable scores: E ko logic‘s graphic shift dresses fashioned from recycled cashmere sweaters; Stewart+Brown’s whisper-weight organic-cotton camisoles; Undesigned by Carol Young‘s raw denim jeans. For jewelry, Kaight features Lulu Frost, the brand of 23-year-old jewelry designer Lisa Salzer, who fashions old Plaza Hotel room numbers, antique compasses, glass spectacles, and steel buckles from the 1800s into striking, one-of-a-kind baubles. The British line Beyond Skins, specializing in natural-fabric shoes, is a prime example of the more successful marriage between vegan principles and fashion—but just like the Toyota Prius, you’ll have to pay out for the pleasure of wearing these non-leather, non-clunky shoes. Prices for the handmade fabric stilettos and pumps lie well within the $200-$400 range.

The greatest problem with the shop, however, is not just high prices but inconsistency—why would you sell Lulu Frost next to unremarkable floral shirtdresses or actress Jaime Pressley’s forgettable line of jersey knits? That’s right, Jaime Pressley—not merely content with Emmy nomination for My Name is Earl or the starring (starring!) role in Poison Ivy 2, our favorite Maxim cover girl recently busted out “J’aime by Jaime Pressley”, a line of interchangeable (read: bland) wrap dresses and tops. Sherpa no more?

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Fergie Is a Man

God Bless MTV. For the VMAs, we expect no less than Christina Aguilera cloaked by a sea of white fog, Beyonce backed by the bomb squad, Al Gore stopping in for a public service announcement, and stage crashers risking life and limb just to drop their website URL. And of course there was that opening with Jay Z, filmed by helicopter from a New York City rooftop for a grand total of 20 seconds; Sarah Silverman wrangled in to fill the awkward-joke role left empty by the absence of Chris Rock; the emcee (this year, Jack Black) running through an opening skit that goes over like the best of Saturday Night Live, 2006. And the fashion, of course, will never disappoint.

And the awards go to:

Greatest proof you’re truly maturing as a band, as evidenced by simultaneously-timed facial hair growth: The Killers. Is that moustache stick-on?

Hardest-working hairpiece that made it through prison bitchfights and lived to tell the tale: Lil’ Kim and whatever her head was wearing.

Clearest sign MTV would hand out an award to a Cheez Doodle: Wow, a moonman for Ringtone of the Year.

Harshest jump to live, unairbrushed Fergie: After picking up her award for “My Humps,” how unkindly those lights shown on this Black Eyed Pea.

Worst trend to hit live award shows: Broadcasting the magic backstage by mic-ing up the producers. “You guys, I have Pharrell on his way”—”I need Paris out of that green room now”—”I’m staying with Sarah Silverman, we’re backstage, we’re ready”—”I need Diddy, where is he?” Someone was actually paid to make this happen.

Bravest equestrian: The fashion press will probably fry him for those riding pants and boots topped with an Atlanta Braves cap, but to us, Andre 3000 commits no fashion mistakes. His ensemble was sweetly bizarre, and he looked like the only artist up there that wasn’t lobotomized by his stylist.

Most likely to have been attacked by a rabid beaver: Pink’s head. Sweet coiffure: prom-in-the-front, army-bitch-in-the-back.

Hottest neck beard: Jack White, congrats.

Outfit so ugly the fashion police will be stumped for comment: J. Lo’s high-necked gold minidress, complete with matching swim cap.

Most heartfelt Hype Williams tribute we actually believed: Missy Elliot, appearing on stage in the garbage-bag suit she wore for her Hype-directed “I Can’t Stand the Rain” video. Beamed into every TV in America as a big Missy balloon, without even the assistance of a wind machine or quick music-video cutaways. This woman relived her fat days just for you. There is no greater love, Hype.

Best reason to live to a ripe old rocker age: So AFI can give you mad props onstage. Show up at the VMAs, Lou Reed, and you get what you deserve.

Most glorious return of the Club MTV crotch shot: We thought nothing could improve upon Beyonce performing an orgiastic version of “Ring the Alarm,” dressed in little more than patent leather hot pants and thigh high boots–but that completely unnecessary, gratuitous crotch shot was a gift from the Viacom heavens straight to you, cable subscriber.

Best time to thank God for the FCC: Everyone hates censorship, until you’re forced to witness the blurred penis of Wee Man.

Finest “I’ll cut that bitch” cutaway: Christina Aguilera, after losing to Kelly Clarkson.

Best cranky Paul Shaffer: Jack White, frontman of the official 2005 VMA House Band.

Shoot-your-stylist award: Fall Out Boy and whoever coordinated those snazzy tweed ensembles! Smart of the frontman to keep his Sherlock Holmes-ish cape on for the whole four hours.

Prettiest manicure: Jared Leto and those delicate man hands he kept fluttering, adorned in black fingerless gloves. Whoa, tiger, is that black nail polish?! All the way from giving it to Claire Danes in the boiler room to looking like Marilyn Manson‘s fluffer-girl. Ditch the Jordan Catalano choker, and look how you’ve soared.

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“Ruff, Ruff”

We had viewed a VH1 celeb-pets fashion special; we were familiar with Fifi & Romeo, the L.A. pet boutique that set the standard for luxe pooch living; we had once even laid unworthy paws on an $80 Sean John doggie polo sweater that Diddy had seen the need to make room for in his Fifth Avenue flagship. Still, nothing really prepared us for Metropolitan Pavilion’s New York Pet Fashion Week, two days of trade exhibitions by upscale retailers from around the country and actual runway shows boasting the finest in canine haute couture.

Our round-up of the most soul-sucking moments, below.

  • One to file under Ill-Advised Runway Themes: The fashion show “A Child’s Journey” featured an actual little girl in JonBenet curls stroking a real live dog as a creepy and out-of-place voiceover of a little girl’s voice (presumably hers) played: “I love you so much Freddy . . . even if you are stinky sometimes.” This kind of horror-movie intro is usually followed by a sweet scene where the kid spits up blood or at least bites the head off Stinky Freddy—and really, what could make Pet Fashion Week better?—but it was not to be. Goldilocks merely fell asleep on a big fluffy bed off to the side of the stage. We’re guessing the runway production that followed was all supposed to be part of the child’s wild and furry imagination (her dreams somehow managed to include a dude in leather bondage gear with a matching leash for his dog, plus the trotting out of, at $250,000, the world’s most expensive doggie collar.) Featuring far bolder outfits than those usually offered during actual New York Fashion Week, “A Child’s Journey” had rock-solid winners like a 50s-inspired polka-dotted gown for the owner with a chapeau shaped to look like a frosted donut (the matching doggie ensemble included a miniature version of the hat) and a black-and-red strapless ball gown for the owner with doggie carriers actually built into the full skirt. Insane ensembles to the uninitiated, granted—but if you’re dressing up with your dog in matching costumes you’re already a special person headed down a very special road.
  • People like this need a way to meet other people like this, and thus the agency Leashes and Lovers, “where dog lovers meet.” The co-founder is one Sheryl Matthys, the only self-proclaimed “Dog Sexpert” we know of (a look on the website reveals that she explores “how dogs impact their human relationships,” and even has an advice column where she answers toughies like, “Why must he luv only cats?”). Included in the Pet Fashion Week brochure was an invite to her Dog Days of Summer Pool Party mixer, with promises of an alluring canine swimsuit contest.
  • The rare petals of the Osmanthus flower are used to create Les Poochs VIP, which, at $3,000 for a 4 oz. bottle, prices in as the world’s most expensive doggie perfume. The sales guy offered us a sniff and—while sweetly pleasant—drowning Peanut in a vat of Jean Naté could produce roughly the same effect. The perfume is available by “invite only,” which means the company must seek out suckers on its own.
  • Unbeknownst to us, the image of the sunglass-wearing dog didn’t die out with Spuds Mackenzie. The makers of “Doggles” maintain that all pooches—not just search-and-rescue, police, and military dogs—require eye protection. The California company offers a variety of shades with 100% UV protection and antifog lenses, now available in sizes from teacup to stupid human.
  • Purse-shaped “Chewy Vuiton” and “Dogior” baguette chew toys are clearly sick; Hedy Manon’s Italian cashmere sweaters with 18K gold buttons, obviously offensive. But in this one-up-you game of crazy, nothing lets the rest of the world know your tenuous hold on reality more than a doggie wedding gown. In addition to their standard velvet holiday attire and “Oodles of Poodles” dog pajamas, Rhode Island company Emma Rose crafts wedding gowns for that special day slutty young Snookums stops tramping around and finally settles down with the boring-but-reliable husky down the street. Gowns are available in all price points, from the $119 white satin and organza Gilded Dog with a crinoline underskirt to the overwrought white satin Gigi gown, beaded with Swarovski crystals (plus a detachable train so your dog can dance the night away unencumbered). “Create an heirloom that you will always cherish,” the website claims—and just think when little Snookums can take the gown out years later to reminisce about her special day and former 4-inch doggie waist. Twenty-five hundred bucks is a drop in the bucket for memories like those.
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Barneys and Beyond

The tail end of the summer sales season has arrived, those final weeks when every store in town attempts to offload its last pairs of size 5 1/2 sandals and sad halter tops. The prices are rock bottom right now—well, as rock bottom as Nolita boutiques and cult designer labels ever get. We’ve decided to list when the sale officially began, so you at least have some inkling of how old the event is and how picked over it will be by now. Depending on the amount of merchandise on sale and when the event started, you could be looking at the cream of the crop or the stockroom dregs.

Barneys Warehouse Sale
Men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, accessories, footwear, and more, at up to 75 percent off. Aug 17-Sept 4 (Mon-Fri 10am-9pm; Sat-Sun 10am-7pm). 255 W 17th Street.

Hermes
Not that you can afford it, even on sale, but just so you know: Ready-to-wear merchandise and accessories for men and women is now marked-down. Wed-Sat, Aug 23-26 (Wed 2pm-6pm, Thu 10am-8pm, Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-4am). Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W 18th Street, 4th fl.

Odin New York
Spring and summer merchandise from Y3, Trovata, Rogues Gallery, Paul Smith, Engineered Garments, and more, marked down 50 to 75 percent. Started early August. Odin New York, 328 W 11th Street, and 199 Lafayette Street.

Saved Gallery of Art & Craft
The owner is cleaning out the closets to make room for a store renovation. The entire store is 60 percent off, including the antique, vintage, and new jewelry. Started at the beginning of August, and continues until the end of the month. Saved Gallery, 82 Berry Street, Williamsburg.

United Nude
Some shoes half-off; the porn-toe flat sandal is one pair for $30, or two for $50. Buy two pairs of shoes, get a third for $35. Sale ends second week in Sept. United Nude, 268 Elizabeth Street.

Flight 001
Take 30 to 75 percent off select merchandise, including Flight 001’s popular Dopp Kit (orig. $30, now $14.99), and the Stewardess Box (orig. $22, now $9.99). (Of course, you won’t be taking it on the plane . . .) Sale started Aug 10. Flight 001, 96 Greenwich Avenue

EMG Blowout
Everything Must Go holds its monthly sale at Tribeca Grand’s Church Lounge. Offerings for August include: Cynthia Rowley empire seersucker minidress, $40; vintage 70s pinafore prairie dress, $35; vintage pin-up bathing suits, $45; See by Chloe summer halter, $30; vintage Pucci psychedelic shorts, $50. Sat, Aug 26, 2pm-6pm. Church Lounge at the Tribeca Grand, 2 Sixth Avenue

TG-170
Reduced prices on United Bamboo, Miss Sixty, Grey Ant, and many more, in the store and online. Citizens of Humanity Wimbeldon jeans, orig. $158, now $80; white J Brand pencil leg skinny jeans, orig. $152, now $80. Started at the beginning of August. TG-170, 170 Ludlow Street, and online at tg170.com.

Brides Against Breast Cancer
Donated gowns from brides and bridal retailers are sold at a discount, with prices ranging from $49-$799. Over half the gowns are donated from designers. Proceeds to benefit the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation. Fri, Aug 18, 10am-8pm; Sat, Aug 19, 9am-6pm. Prince George Ballroom, 15 E 27th Street. $20 donation at the door.

Billion Dollar Babes
Up to 80 percent off women’s wear and accessories by sass & bide, Vivienne Westwood, Anya Hindmarch, Paul Smith eyewear, Grey Ant, Tocca, Oliver Peoples, James Jeans, and more. Sat, Aug 26, 9am-5pm. Altman Building, 135 W 18th Street.

ABC Carpet Bronx Warehouse Sale
Up to 75 percent off select merchandise, including rugs, furniture, lighting, and more, at the Bronx warehouse. Aug 17-27. ABC Bronx Warehouse, 1055 Bronx Avenue at the Bruckner Expwy.

Intermix Warehouse Sale
Forty to 70 percent off merchandise from Catherine Malandrino, Citizens of Humanity, Ella Moss, KORS, 7 for All Mankind, Paige Premium Denim. A separate designer boutique will offer up to 70 percent off designers like Chloe, See by Chloe, Stella McCartney, Sonia Rykiel, Derek Lam, Givenchy, Valentino, and Gaultier. Cash and credit cards only. Aug 24-26, 9am-8pm. Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W 18th Street.

Rafe
60 percent off spring 2006 line of handbags and shoes, both in the store and online at www.rafe.com. The sale started two months ago, and continues until the end of month. Rafe, 1 Bleecker St, and rafe.com.

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Life After Parsons

What are young fashion school graduates to do? Spend years trolling the underbelly of a design house, developing sketches for the Big Deal Designer who hasn’t seen the inside of a sewing room since the Carter administration; take up residence on their couch back at home, placating their parents with vague promises of a law-school career change. Or they could start a line of their own—but fresh out of school, that’s a bold gamble, with only a lottery-ticket probability of success.

The designers of Vena Cava—Lisa Mayock, 24, and Sophie Buhai, 25—may have just won the lottery. A mere three years after graduating from Parsons, their line has received mentions in Vogue, Elle, and the New York Times, and is sold at over 80 retailers, including Barneys and Fred Segal. Lauded as subtly elegant and everyday-functional, the line—which includes refined silk dresses with hand-designed prints; jersey tops with triangle cutouts;—embraces an easy, unfussy aesthetic accented with charming, vintage-inspired details (an unusual mustard trim here, a row of buttons framing the collar there).

It’s difficult to explain why certain lines break through to the big time, while others trudge along in semi-obscurity, and still others flame out after just one season, never to be heard from again. It helps, of course, to have a vocal celebrity fan: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Buhai’s childhood next-door neighbor in LA, has enthusiastically followed and supported the young women’s line from the start. But both Buhai and Mayock also display an impressive business acumen rare for designers with so few years in the business. Inquire about their line, and the ladies can rattle off their target customer and industry niche. Vena Cava lies within the “design contemporary” category (think Barneys Co-op); has the look and feel of pieces at designer price-points, but is “taken down a notch” so the pieces are “less precious” and suitable for everyday wear. There’s no wide-eyed fantasies with these two, no talk of “compromising their art” for the masses, no toiling away in the reclusive ivory tower of ideas that amuse them and them alone. “People confuse artist and designer,” remarks Mayock. “If someone were to ask what we do,” adds Buhai, “we’re designers, and we’re businesswomen.” Balancing creativity with marketing sense is not a skill that fashion school necessarily teaches. “Parsons was excellent in terms of craftsmanship,” says Mayock, but there were only two business classes, and they were fairly general. For young upstart designers, the women suggest taking business courses, and pursuing internships on the production and well as design side.

With the startup costs for launching a clothing business so exorbitant—”we were told you need a million dollars,” says Mayock—the designers had to be creative with what little cash they could cobble together. Their first show, clothes included, cost under $5,000. “It was so guerrilla style,” says Buhai. “We sewed half the collection ourselves, and had a friend from film school do the lighting.” But the industry came, perhaps lured there by the ladies’ creative choice of invite—scarves printed with the show details and stuffed into small Lucite boxes. The two took odd jobs to support themselves (Mayock worked behind the counter at Nolita restaurant Rice and did “some creepy catering jobs,” Buhai babysat and scored an unusual gig as a hand model); received a loan from their parents of $4,000 each; and financed most of the business in those lean early months with trunk shows. Four accounts and a few mentions from Vogue and the New York Times later, Vena Cava was accepted into The News, a showroom that has repped Mayle and Clements Ribeiro. “After that, our business took off,” Buhai remarks. They had 40 store accounts in their first season with the showroom, and it went up to 90 the season after.

Even with their quick success, Buhai and Mayock don’t hold any illusion about how difficult it is to survive as a brand. Jerome Chazen, one of the founders of the Liz Claiborne brand, shared with them the honest truth early on.

“He said there’s almost no chance of succeeding with your own line,” Mayock said. “Well, there is a chance, but it’s very slim.”

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Simpson Verdict

“We like to do things larger than life,” declared Victoria’s Secret Pink spokeswoman Sara Tervo, the day before the massive promotional bash for PINK, the company’s loungewear line for college-age girls. What was billed as the World’s Largest Pajama Party might have been missing a few beds and frozen bras, but it was not low on spectacle. God only knows how many V-string thongs sales it took to finance the massive two-floor set Ashlee Simpson would perform a grand total of five songs on, for the gargantuan polka dotted dogs that greeted revelers near the entrance, for the post-performance screening of Pretty in Pink, for the battalion of pr and security to keep plebes like us out of the free-drink VIP tent. Those who came at 7 p.m. when the event began and stayed until the time Ashlee actually appeared onstage (almost three hours later) were rewarded with free stuffed plush pink canines, pink cotton candy, pink flavored water, pink blankets that proclaimed Phi Beta Pink (huh?), and pink backpacks.

Created in 2004, the PINK brand is targeted at the 18-22 crowd; Victoria’s Secret has even partnered up with MTV to target campuses with the mtvU Girls That Rock Tour, and created its own webpage to download PINK MySpace logos. But short of a few lace thongs and bras, the collection—mostly candy-colored cropped sweats, lounge pants, and tee shirts that bear sayings like “Love Pink” and “Pink Academy”—has a cutesy tween appeal.

After an opening film montage and a few seconds of overly-enthusiastic guitar pogoing by her all-dude band, Ashlee took the stage. Sporting a gray-checked bustier with attached garter straps swinging over her jeans and a black bra peeking underneath, Little Sister was all grown up—a parent-sanctioned version of a Girl Gone Wild, complete with wavy Paris Hilton locks cascading over her bronzed-up shoulders and eyebrows tweezed drag-queen thin. We missed the old Ashlee with her mall-rat outcast shtick, however contrived it was. Pole dancing to a street-lamp prop and slapping her ass, Ashlee swiftly sang—so we think—through her stockpile of hits (“Lala,” “Pieces of Me,” “Boyfriend”). Giggling breathlessly between songs, she made a few comments with classic CosmoGIRL-credibility: “It is so cute, everyone in their pajamas, I love it—every night we get into our pajamas and watch music DVDs.” (Right.) “I heard there’s a lot of candy out there, I’m pretty jealous! (Not to worry, we’re sure there’s better “candy” backstage.) We leaned in for a gander at her celebrated new nose, and even from twenty people back, one could tell Simpson had committed what we like to call the “Jennifer Grey.” The “neither denied nor confirmed” nose job had transformed her from quirky and unique to commonplace and forgettable. Old Ashlee—dark hair, Hot Topic gear, imperfect virgin shnoz—might have shown her realistic teen awkwardness a bit too much to be a true PINK chick in one of those “Don’t Mess With this Girl in Pink” baby tees. New Ashlee is the smiling sorority sister, the blond cheerleader, the perky in pink.

“Ashley or Jessica?,” we asked a guy on the way out. “Pre-op or Post-op?” he smart-assed back.

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A Breakfast of Botox

“Whenever I say ‘Botox,’ I smile. Why do I smile? Your face is your own accessory you use every day—and you want to wear it well,” says Dr. Jeanine Downie. An extremely attractive woman with prominent cheekbones and flawless skin, Downie has been a proponent and personal user of botox for several years. To sell Botox to her patients, however, a bit of sugar-coating is involved. “I don’t call it a toxin,” confesses Downie of the product, whose technical name  is, indeed, Botulinum Toxin Type A. She prefers the word protein, or “small bacteria.”

Downie was speaking at a recent breakfast in Chelsea hosted by Allergan, the maker of Botox, to introduce its new product to the fashion and beauty media. The FDA had approved the dermal filler Juvéderm for “contouring and volumizing” facial wrinkles and folds, and though the actual product release date is still uncertain, a preview of the injectable gel, along with a reintroduction into the wonders of Botox and the rest of the Allergan family, was in order.

According to a survey of 1,000 Botox users and from what Downie observes in her own practice, most consumers are women aged 35-50 (“working mothers,” both Downie and the Botox pamphlets informed). Downie sees a growing interest among men, particularly those with a certain career. “A lot of politicians are coming to see me,” Downie announced, “because they want to have their ‘game face’ on.”

And Botox is affordable. “It breaks down to just $3 to $5 a day,” she assured, sounding like a Sally Struthers ad. “Just cut back on a latte or two, and you can have your Botox.”

The second speaker, a serious-looking and comely woman doctor, Ava Shamban, introduced the new product Juvéderm. Unlike Botox, Juvéderm’s function is to fill in sunken cheeks and lines around the lips. It’s made of hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring polymer in the body that cushions joints; Juvéderm’s particular type of hyaluronic acid is responsible for producing results that last up to six months longer than other hyaluronic acid dermal fillers.

The third physician, Jessica Wu, attested to how much her patients love the results—’soft and natural,’ is, according to her, a frequent response. Wu already has about 200 people on the waiting list—”It’s like being on the list for a Birkin bag!,” she exclaimed. “People want the latest and the greatest.” And the latest and greatest need to be used not in lieu of Botox, but in conjunction with. Wu likened Juvéderm to a new pair of shoes you merely “work into the wardrobe”.

“Sometimes friends and family will try to discourage” patients from receiving Botox or another non-invasive procedure, Wu admitted. (We imagine everyone fears their loved one looking like an early-stage David Guest.)  But “if I’m doing a good job,” added Wu, “nobody will be able to tell.”

Cue the test subject: The image of Eva Lowry, a 42-year-old woman from Southern California, pops up on the screen. Lowry is an assiduous exerciser with a stunning, toned body for her age—film of her jogging in a sports bra, wearing an open shirt, and even posing in a waterfall, wearing nothing but a bikini, flashed across the screen—”but she felt like her face didn’t match her body.” Close-ups of Lowry’s face around her mouth and of Lowry frowning replaced the full-body photos. To be honest, they looked to us like any normal 42-year-old woman’s face would look—granted, Lowry had spent some time in the sun, but her face was nothing if not beautiful. Still, Lowry was dissatisfied. She hated the lines around her mouth, and “every time I look into the mirror, I see this ’11′” she complained. (This is what the frown lines between the eyebrows are called in Botox-speak. Using Botox would apparently give the “11” a “time-out.”)

A few minutes into the film, Lowry was in Wu’s office, receiving an injection of Juvéderm near her mouth. “Here you go!” said Wu, passing a mirror to Lowry so that she could view the results for herself. Lowry’s hand went up to her mouth, and she started to shake. “I’m going to cry!” she mumbled, and her eyes started to well up. The film ended shortly after this, and all eyes moved back to Wu, still at the podium.

Then, in a scene that could have been ripped straight from an episode of The Swan, the curtain behind Wu parted, and the flesh-and-blood Lowry emerged, beaming. “I feel so fabulous inside,” she bubbled, “it reflects on the outside.” But Lowry had a message for the audience too. “I really want to emphasize, it’s so important to choose the right doctor. They should also be an artist.” Everyone applauded. “Thank you for sharing my journey,” she said.

A Q&A followed, which included one reporter-type demanding to know if the panelists had been compensated by Allergan, a confirmation that was about as shocking as learning a Hot Pocket takes two minutes to cook, not one.

Not that we weren’t shocked by something else we saw at the breakfast: before and after photos of Lowry. The “before” showed her frowning. In the next pic, taken after the Botox, Juvéderm, collagen and other assorted members of the Allergan family were pumped into her face, Lowry attempted the same expression, but only got as far as an aborted wince.

“She’s trying to frown, but cannot.” Wu gushed. “But she can still smile.”

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Orange No More

What I learned from my mother, who happens to be an oncologist: Freaky-sized moles are to be removed, nitrate-packed deli meat is suspect, and above all, hit a tanning bed and you’re speed dialing the Grim Reaper. “Do you know what that’ll do to you?” I barked at one college friend, after she confessed to having her skin professionally seared in high school. My annoying lecturing wasn’t limited to just the occasional tanning-salon customer. “You need an SPF of at least 15, at the very least 15,” I admonished a friend in Aruba, like a belligerent Coppertone cop.

Self-tanners are of course another possibility, but I found it difficult to shuck the early 80s memory of them turning you orange, just like it was difficult to forget the first wave of colored contacts that made your pupils look like they could shoot lasers. To this day, those who self tan often serve as de facto product reps themselves, convincing skeptics that their skin won’t resemble rotting papaya.

Naturally, it helps if the proponent boasts a tan that looks like it results from weeks on the shores of Bali instead of a night shellacking in the bathtub. A friend of mine, a blonde bronzed goddess who’s often asked if she just got back from Miami, argues convincingly for the color improvement in contemporary self-tanning products. But she admits what hasn’t gotten better is the smell. Be prepared for a chemical-like scent similar to hairspray fumes, an aroma that will thankfully disappear by morning—right about the time your lovely new tan starts to appear.

Like most self-tanaholics, my friend—we’ll call her I’m Not Orange—has her applications down to a science. Coppertone Cop will share them with you.

1. I’m Not Orange uses the tinted self-tanners; with the colorless ones, “you’re not sure if you’ve spread it out evenly because you can’t see it.” After having tried a few self-tanners for just one night, I can attest to this. The Coppertone Sunless Tanning Bronzing Foam and the Neutrogena Sunless Tanning Micro Mist absorbed so quickly and near-invisibly into my skin that it was impossible to see where I’d applied it or if I’d missed a spot or 10. “I prefer creams,” says INO, “because I feel like I have more control with the cream versus sprays or foams (which I find are more difficult to manage).” And she also reminds applicants, “When you’re applying it to your knuckles, knees, and elbows, they tan darker, so you have to be careful.”

2. INO applies self-tanner in the evening, about a half hour before she goes to bed. The drying time for self-tanners largely varies, and one can really only judge by experience. The Neutrogena spray claimed it took only five minutes, but our thighs sexily stuck together for a full hour after.)

3. INO recommends the Estee Lauder Sun Performance line and L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Gelee—”although this year the Estee Lauder one seems runny, so it doesn’t dry as fast.” Neutrogena Instant Bronze is effective, but it dries too fast. “If you haven’t spread it out fully and it dries on you, it gets caky.”

4. Although most brands offer a specific tanner for the face, INO avoids these. “I find the face ones are too sensitive and I don’t get tan enough, so I use the ones for the body.” It’s a personal choice: brave potential breakouts or sport a different color head.

5. INO does two applications to get her base tan, which lasts about a week. “The thing with tanner,” she explains, “is it just tints your upper skin layer. So as your skin sheds, about a week later, the tanner starts to come off. At that point, you just have to exfoliate all over your body, and then do it all over again.”

6. “Tan palms are a dead giveaway you’re using tanner,” shares the wise INO. She advises washing your hands after applying tanner to each body part, or else the tanner will tint your palms. This step separates the streaky nubies from the pros: “Once you’re done with your whole body, when you want the top of your hands to get tan, you just put it on one hand and then rub it on the top of your other hand. That’s how I end.”